In 2000, when I first came to Beijing, there were only a handful of bars. Back in the days I was going to the River Bar regularly to see the Wild Children playing. The Wild children was a band from Lanzhou (Gansu province) that had formed in the mid 90s and sung songs influenced by China’s West. Introduced by a friend I eventually got to play at the bar every Wednesday and got to know people such as Wan Xiaoli, Xiaohe, XTX, Song Yuzzhe, Wang Juan, and guys from the Wild Children Zhang Quan, Chen Zhi Peng, Zhang Weiwei, Guo Long etc. This was basically the start of my music exploration in China.
Retrospectively the River Bar became for many the origin of China’s modern folk music. Artists such as Xiaohe Wan Xiaoli and Song Yuzhe have set the foundations of that style.
I would sometimes travel across the city to see shows at places such as The Get Lucky Bar, a place that was half Karaoke half Punk bar, and CD cafe where I saw Second Hand Roses for the first time and became friends with Wang Yuqi, the guitarist of the band, who at the time sounded to me like a Chinese Jimi Hendrix. Defining a new kind of rock music with Dongbei influences Second Hand Roses has become one of the most important rock bands in China.
Nostalgia hits me when I talk about those days of my youth, days of innocence when 798 was still a wild place for art where artists lived and had fun, people such as Xiaorong of Brain Failure, one of the first punk bands in China.
Back in those days there were no big festivals in China yet, Modern Sky had a magazine in which you could find a compilation of the best underground rock songs of the moment, and the Midi school had just started, they were actually the ones who started the first rock music festival in Beijing in their backyard.
It’s also at that time that I started hanging out with Chen Zhi Peng, who was the percussionist of the Wild Children. He gave me a few CDs and tapes and that’s when I started to discover Chinese rock music history, listening to ADO (Cui Jian’s first band), Tang Dynasty, Zhang Chu, Dou Wei, Heyong, Cui Jian etc…
At the time I was working in a French Restaurant in Sanlitun North Street, and the Sanlitun South street was home to not only the River Bar but also the Tree, Public Space, and a few other places. (The South Street was destroyed a few years after to build Sanlitun Soho).
One day i met a Canadian girl named Marie-Claude, she asked me where she could play in Beijing, we quickly formed a band called Asian Trip and Marie Claude would later form the band Mademoiselle et son orchestre. We used to play in different venues but mainly at the River Bar with Fenni who later created the band Sound Sculpture, she had just arrived to Beijing all the way from Xi’an on a motorized vehicle.
It’s also at the River Bar that I saw Xie Tian Xiao and Lengxue Dongwu (Cold Blooded Animals ) play for the first time, Shengyin Suipian (Sound Fragment), Mutuigua (Wood Pushing Melon), a sort of mix between Zappa and King Crimson with a Chinese touch, Song Yu Zhe (singer of Mutuigua, Laoda (a legend of the Chinese rock scene who died recently), Wonderful Pharmacy, (another original sounding band mixing funny words and creative music) and so many more. Little did I know at the time that I was witnessing one of the best period (if not the best) of the Beijing Music scene. All those bands and artists I was seeing there became staples of the Chinese music scene in the years to come and for some even Legends.
The River Bar closed in 2003, the year Xiaosuo, one of the two singers of the Wild Children died.